Pilot study aims to improve depression in SNF rehab patients through telemedicine

Geriatric mental health specialists in Rhode Island are working on a new pilot project that puts an interesting twist on telemedicine: improving depression in nursing home rehabilitation patients through use of the tool.

Funded by a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital are collaborating with Evergreen House Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in East Providence to test the program. All three facilities have partnered with Breakthrough, a technology company based in Palo Alto, Calif., that connects mental health professionals with patients via secure video, email and chat.

“Depression is very common in nursing home patients, and there are not enough geriatric mental health professionals to provide services,” said Thomas Sheeran, PhD, ME, a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital, who is also the principal investigator on the pilot study. “We need to find creative ways to better help these individuals.”

“Telemedicine allows mental health professionals to reach more people than they otherwise could, especially among seniors who may have mobility challenges,” Sheeran continued.

Researchers began the pilot project this past November and will report on its results in the summer of 2012. If successful, the researchers hope to expand the program to more nursing homes and to conduct a full randomized trial to test the effectiveness of the intervention.

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